With the story of the day undoubtedly Yellen’s first (bungled) press conference, it was easy to forget that the second coming of the Cold War is raging in the Ukraine. For those curious what they may have missed, here is a summary of the major events that took place in the troubled country this afternoon. Highlights from AP, AFP, Reuters, WSJ, Bloomberg, RIA and Interfax.
President Barack Obama ruled out U.S. military involvement in Ukraine on Wednesday, emphasizing diplomacy in the U.S. standoff with Russia over Crimea.
“We are not going to be getting into a military excursion in Ukraine,” Obama told KNSD, San Diego’s NBC affiliate, in an interview. “There is a better path, but I think even the Ukrainians would acknowledge that for us to engage Russia militarily would not be appropriate and would not be good for Ukraine either,” Obama said.
Russian forces seized military installations across the disputed Crimean Peninsula on Wednesday, prompting Ukraine’s security chief to announce that his country will hold joint military exercises with the United States and Britain.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Lithuania, trying to reassure nations along Russia’s borders who were terrified by the sight of an expansion-minded Moscow.
“We’re in this with you, together,” Biden said.
Ukraine’s government is preparing to evacuate its remaining military personnel and their families from the breakaway region of Crimea now that Russia has moved to annex the territory.
Andriy Parubiy, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, didn’t provide details on the mechanisms or timing of the plan, however.
“We’re working on a plan to quickly and effectively move not only the military personnel, but first of all their family members, to continental Ukraine,” Mr. Parubiy told a media briefing in Kiev. He added that 25,000 places had been reserved for such transfers altogether.
A Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman in Crimea, however, said Wednesday evening that he had received no word yet of any order to evacuate.
Early in the day, pro-Russian forces in Crimea had stormed Ukraine’s naval headquarters and allegedly detained the base’s commander, sparking an ultimatum from Ukraine’s acting president that the country would take “appropriate measures” if he and others weren’t released.
… The ultimatum deadline has come and gone, and so far nobody has been released to the best of our knowledge.
Moscow will respond in kind to U.S. sanctions imposed on Russian officials over the Crimea dispute and is considering other steps if Washington escalates tensions, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday.
On Monday, the United States and the EU announced sanctions on a handful of officials from Russia and Ukraine accused of involvement in Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region, most of whose 2 million residents are ethnic Russians.
Washington has threatened further sanctions while Russian lawmakers raced to ratify a treaty making Crimea part of Russia by the end of the week.
“We are looking at a broad range of responsive measures. They can be identical measures regarding certain lists of American officials – not necessarily representatives of the administration … who have influenced American policies,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Interfax.
“There is also the possibility of passing asymmetrical measures, that means steps which, let’s say … won’t go unnoticed in Washington,” he said.
Russia threatened late Wednesday that it could alter its position at Iranian nuclear talks in response to pressure from the European Union and United States over its seizure of Crimea.
“We would not like to use these talks as an element of a stakes-raising game taking into account the moods in various European capitals, in Brussels and Washington,” deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency.
Ryabkov was speaking in Vienna after the latest round of Iranian talks involving Russia. Those at the talks included the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who said he saw “signs” a long-term nuclear deal could be reached.
Under an interim agreement Iran struck with the six powers in November, the two sides are aiming for a long-term deal by a July 20 target date. But Rybakov warned that Russia, that joined the West in urging Tehran to curtail its nuclear activities, could shift its stance, saying it considered its “historic” role in Crimea more important.
“But if we are forced, here we will take the path of counter-measures, because when it comes down to it, the historic value of what has happened in recent weeks and days from the point of view of restoring historical justice and reuniting Crimea and Russia is incomparable with what we are doing” on Iran, he said.
“At the end of the day, the choice and the decision is down to our colleagues in Washington and Brussels,” Ryabkov said.
Russia’s economy is showing signs of a crisis, the government in Moscow said as the U.S. and the European Union announced sanctions over its plan to annex the Crimea region from Ukraine.
“The situation in the economy bears clear signs of a crisis,” Deputy Economy Minister Sergei Belyakov said in Moscow yesterday. The cabinet needs to refrain from raising the fiscal burden on companies, which would be the “wrong approach,” he said. “Taking money from companies and asking them afterward to modernize production is illogical and strange.”
Even before the standoff with the West, the worst since the Cold War, Russia’s economy was facing the weakest growth since a 2009 recession as consumer demand failed to make up for sagging investment. President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty today on Crimea joining Russia, signaling his defiance of Western sanctions. Russia won’t seek to further split Ukraine, he said in the Kremlin.
The Ukrainian crisis is putting a strain on Russia’s $2 trillion economy, which expanded 1.3 percent in 2013 after 3.4 percent the previous year. Last year’s
growth was “insufficient” and the current outlook and government forecasts “can’t satisfy us,” Putin said March 12.
Russia will cover Crimea’s estimated 55 billion rouble ($1.53 billion) budget deficit with funds from the federal budget, Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said on Channel 1 state television on Tuesday.
“The volume of the (budget) deficit of Crimea and Sevastopol is about 55 billion roubles,” Siluanov said in an interview televised by Channel 1.
“The whole sum will definitely be covered with federal budget.”
Switzerland has frozen negotiations on a free trade deal with Russia, the head of the country’s economic affairs department said Wednesday, a decision he linked to Moscow’s annexation of part of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
In an interview with Swiss broadcaster SRF Radio, Johann Schneider-Ammann said the talks with Russia, as well as the former Soviet republics of Belarus and Kazakhstan, had been halted. Mr. Schneider-Ammann, who is a member of Switzerland’s seven-person cabinet, blamed the increasing crisis in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea after a Sunday referendum for the halt.
“In this uncertain situation we cannot pretend as if nothing has happened,” Mr. Schneider-Ammann said in the interview. He called the freeze the “first formal sign” of Switzerland’s concern over the situation in Ukraine, saying the Alpine country wanted a trade deal with Russia “but not at any price.”
The halt of the talks also applies to Switzerland’s partners in the European Free Trade Association, which includes Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, which were also due to take part in the next round of negotiations in April, a spokesman for the Swiss Economics Dept. said.
The German government said on Wednesday that defence contractor Rheinmetall’s plan to deliver combat simulation kit to Russia was unacceptable in light of the diplomatic showdown with Moscow over its military occupation of Crimea.
The economy ministry, asked by Reuters about Rheinmetall’s intention to honour contractual obligations to deliver about 100 million euros ($139 million) worth of technology to a Russian combat training centre, said it was in contact with the firm.
“The German government considers the export of the combat simulation centre to Russia unacceptable in the current circumstances,” the ministry said in a statement to Reuters.
“The government is in contact with the company. At the moment no such export is foreseen,” said the ministry.
Rheinmetall had said earlier on Wednesday that it intended to complete the delivery of the equipment, which was ordered about two years ago. The company said it had no further orders outstanding from Russia or Ukraine.
Moscow will decide whether to introduce visas for Ukrainians visiting Russia after it is officially informed of Kiev’s new visa regime for Russians, Russian state news agency RIA reported a source at Russia’s Foreign Ministry as saying on Wednesday.
Ukrainian security chief Andriy Parubiy said earlier in the day that Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry had been given instructions to introduce visas for Russians visiting Ukraine, as tensions rise between the two neighbours
European leaders will seek ways to cut their multi-billion-dollar dependence on Russian gas at talks in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, while stopping short of severing energy ties with Moscow for now.
Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region has revived doubts about whether the European Union should continue to rely on Russia for nearly a third of its gas, providing Gazprom with an average of $5 billion per month in revenue. Some 40 percent of that gas is shipped via Ukraine.
EU powerhouse Germany is among those with particularly close energy links to Russia and has echoed comments from Gazprom, Russia’s top natural gas producer, that Russia has been a reliable supplier for decades.
EU officials said the current Ukraine crisis, however, had convinced many in Europe that Russia was no longer reliable and the political will to end its supply dominance had never been greater. “Everyone recognises a major change of pace is needed on the part of the European Union,” one EU official said on condition of anonymity.
“At the back of people’s minds, there will always be the doubt that if the relationship goes sour, Russia has that weapon and it’s not something it should have,” another official said, referring to Russia’s option of severing supplies.
As alternatives to imported gas, the Brussels talks will debate the EU’s “indigenous supplies”, which include renewable energy and shale gas.
Russia has “shared [its] fears” about the humanitarian situation in Ukraine with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the head of the Russian Federal Migration Service said on Wednesday.
“I won’t keep it secret that we have shared our fears with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Our fears were understood to a certain extent, and a certain form of interaction with that organization has begun,” Konstantin Romodanovsky told reporters in Moscow.
“I think that by combined efforts we will minimize the problems that the unstable situation in Ukraine may cause us,” he said.
And that’s a wrap.